April 28, 2005 | 0 comments
In honor of Irving Kristol, who died today, we reprint this discussion about the state of liberalism, from our May 1969 issue.
The following article was published in the May 1969 edition of The Alternative (as The American Spectator was then known).
Irving Kristol, co-editor of the Public Interest with Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is one of those stalwart Liberals who answers the call to truth even when it entails disturbing the fustian of the Realm. Recently he has, through his persuasive prose, impaled more than a few of the Republic’s leading quacks. In Foreign Affairs he transfixed a whole genre of charlatans by defining the intellectual as “a man who speaks with general authority about a subject on which he has no particular competence.” Combining effrontery with obscenity he maculated the pages of the New Republic with a thoughtful essay endorsing Hubert Humphrey’s candidacy and but a few months later uttered the unmentionable: to wit, the country is moving to the right and the universities are a blight on education in America. The stars had fallen from the heavens, even Irving Howe expressed concern. Had Irving Kristol thrown in with the Albigensians?
We doubt it. Mr. Kristol still seeks the dilation of opportunity and a more bearable life for all. He is still a Liberal. But he is also a man possessing the intelligence and audacity to look for answers beyond the encumbrances of stylish ideology. It is not he but “the intellectuals” who have changed, making anti-intellectualism the sought after epithet of thinking men.
The Alternative greatly admires Mr. Kristol. We assume his life has its unpleasant moments such as when, in his kindness, he grants interviews to people like our editor, Mr. Tyrrell. But things could always be worse, we could have sent Nathan.
TYRRELL: Before the 1968 election, you said you saw the future of American politics as being “considerably less liberal than in past decades.” Do you still have this view and is Nixon the fulfillment of your vision? Or will things go farther to the right?
KRISTOL: Yes, I still have that view, though I wasn’t thinking specifically of Nixon or of this administration when I made that prediction. I was looking much further ahead. Basically, what I was trying to say was that any kind of militance — especially extralegal activity — on the part of the left in this country will certainly give rise to a corresponding reaction on the part of the public at large and the governmental authorities. In short I think it likely that even liberal administrations of the future are likely to be far less liberal than they have been in the past.
TYRRELL: Do you think a Wallace type has a
chance of getting elected in 1972?
KRISTOL: No, certainly not in 1972. I see no prospect of that whatsoever.
TYRRELL: You have remarked on the emergence of an “unreasonable revolution of Utopian expectations on the part of a significant minority.” Has that minority yet emerged and who constitutes it? How will it exist in the future?
KRISTOL: I was thinking, of course, primarily of
students and some faculty on the campuses. These are people, who
not only have had no political experience
— one really couldn’t expect them to have had political experience — but who have a singular unwillingness and uninterest in learning from past political experience and therefore have no sense of the limits of politics. They have no sense of the time that is needed to make constructive social change. They have no sense of the way in which human purposes go awry. These people demand instant improvement and of course you never do get instant improvement in real life. What was your other question?
TYRRELL: Who are they exactly? SDS (Students for Democratic
KRISTOL: Well, not only SDS, although of course SDS is one of the groups. But I think you have a much larger group, of students and faculty both, who have an insistence that this country change in a radical way very, very quickly. Unfortunately they seem to have no method for changing the people who live in this country overnight in a very radical and quick way, and therefore I regard their plans as Utopian.
TYRRELL: Do you think it has to change radically?
KRISTOL: I don’t know whether it has to or not; I don’t think anyone really knows. Much of their dissatisfaction is mysterious to me. Some of their dissatisfaction I understand. This is not the most beautiful of all societies and this is not even the most civilized of all societies. On the other hand, it is what it is as a result of several hundred years of history. The people who live in it are what they are as a result of these hundreds of years of history. The notion that you can change things overnight strikes me as utterly fantastic.
TYRRELL: How are they going to exist in the future? Are Wallace types going to repress them?
KRISTOL: Oh, I’m not really worried about the
Wallace type. I mean I don’t see any specter of Neo-fascism on
the American horizon. What I do see, however, is that if they
insist on being militant and resorting to extralegal activities,
they will probably be put down, not by Wallace, but even by a
TYRRELL: You have stated that the church and the family have neglected transmitting moral authority and traditions. How has America, as you said, “progressively diminished the moral authority of all existing institutions?” Through the inclination of relativism?
KRISTOL: Well, that’s one part of it, yes. Let’s put it in its simplest terms. We did it because that’s what we set out to do. The modern spirit of critical inquiry as it developed, not only within the universities, but within the world of letters and within the world of journalism over the past eighty years, had as its purpose precisely that: the diminishing of the authority of existing institutions, and most especially of the family and of the schools and of the churches. If you go back to Jane Addams, who was a very sweet woman, and read her works you will find that she very expressedly declared that one of her purposes was to diminish the authority of the family and replace it by the authority of the social work profession and the state and so on. So that I don’t think this was entirely an accident — though, I do think a great many people didn’t realize what was happening. But there was a theory behind this, and the theory was that if you diminish these traditional authorities, a latent and hitherto repressed creativity and goodness and sweetness would flow from human beings. These people were Utopian (not particularly radical people, like John Dewey, Jane Addams, the entire progressive movement in academic studies the “new realism” in law, the “new history” and of course they contributed to the prevalence of relativism as philosophy. They really did feel that these authorities could be dispensed with, that if you got rid of them, human beings would live much fuller and happier and more contented lives without the benefits of external authority, that a sense of free community could flow from their innermost souls. It was a very attractive vision which is one of the reasons it had so much success. So that it’s a historical process (partly of course it’s a sociological process, I’ve not mentioned that; the fact that certain economic developments have made the family, as an economic unit, weaker than it once was). But basically I really do think this was a program of, one might almost say, the modern world, since very few people opposed it. It was the program of modern liberalism and even of much of modem conservatism. And no one expected it to have such cataclysmic consequences.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online